Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nothing short of amazing

The massive stage/set...

Amazing. Simply amazing.

Where? - the University of Nevada Las Vegas' Sam Boyd football stadium (located on the outskirts of Las Vegas).

When? - Last night, Oct. 23, 2009.

Who? - U2 (and about 40,000 of the band's closest the 42nd president of the United States).

What? - the 360˚ world tour.

Bono, on video, over his minions...

In the middle of the desert, outside of a neon-lit town built upon vice, they built a cathedral and held a church service. More than 40,000 people crowded into the worship space and listened to homily after sweet homily; rode the highs and lows of every emotion; and when it was all over they begged for more.

U2, the ubiquitous rock icons, brought it's latest world tour - in support of its latest album, "No Line on the Horizon," to Vegas for another of its patented arena concerts that have become such productions - literally and figuratively - that there has never been another act in the modern era that performs at the level they do.

For this tour, the band exceeded any expectations by bringing a set to stadiums so large, imposing, versatile and mind-bending that it almost defies any attempts to describe it. So let's try...the stage spans the width of a football field; as with previous tours, it includes "runways" that extend out to and encircle parts of the floor audience; there are bridges (which can be slid) reaching out from the main stage to the runways and the stage is open on all sides (hence, just part of the tour's "360˚" title).

But the most impressive aspects of the set/stage is the massive structure that resembles some sort of creature with four arms (think an upside-down octopus), which rises from the set's four corners and overhangs the stage. From the structure hangs speakers and lights, and in the middle of the structure is a multi-story tower that holds lights, speakers and smoke machines. And surrounding/hung from the bottom of the needle is a giant 360˚ video screen (Bono called it a video "carousel") that not only provided stunning video coverage and effects, but also was an effect all to itself at times - it can lower, rise and even break apart into literally hundreds of separate video screens.

(Accompanying this post, you will see several photos I snapped from my seat that provide an idea of what the staging encompassed.)

The music

Oh, yeah...I almost forgot to mention - there was music played. It wasn't just about eye candy.

Kicking off the night with "Breathe" from their newest album, the band (Bono, vocals and rhythm guitar; The Edge, guitar, keyboards, and vocals; Adam Clayton, bass guitar; and Larry Mullen, Jr., drums and percussion) seemed determined to enjoy the staging but not to let it overshadow their sonic offerings.

They needn't have worried.

Showing they weren't afraid to sail into uncharted waters from the beginning, U2 kicked the concert off with two other powerful, new numbers along"Breathe" - "Get On Your Boots" and "Magnificent" (the last of which is destined to become another in the long list of the band's concert "hymns"). It was a bold move but the adoring crowd had already been swept up by the typical pre-show anticipation and hype, not to mention the sight of the massive set inside the stadium. The band was in high gear from the get-go and notched it up from there throughout the show.

The rest of the show included "Mysterious Ways," "Beautiful Day" - "In God's Country" - "Fix You," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" - "Viva Las Vegas," "Stuck In A Moment," "No Line On The Horizon, Elevation," "In A Little While," "Unknown Caller," "Until the End of the World," "The Unforgettable Fire," "City of Blinding Lights," Vertigo" - "All These Things That I've Done," "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," "MLK (Martin Luther King)," and "Walk On" - "You'll Never Walk Alone." The encore list included "One," "Amazing Grace," "Where the Streets Have No Name," "Ultraviolet," "With or Without You," and "Moment of Surrender."

It was a typical U2 concert and it wasn't. It was because it included many favorites (not hard with such a sizable/meaningful catalog); the crowd sang backing vocals; and appeals were made for various human rights causes. It wasn't the same and the staging was the proof.

The association between U2 concerts and spiritual experiences is nothing new - Bono has said as much during previous shows. But the band has stepped beyond that now. It has become so big, so significant, that even a typically large rock concert stage can't accommodate (certainly not contain) it. And while the structure had a "sci-fi creature on steroids" look to it as more than one person said, it had a very real feel of a medieval cathedral: massive arches, a spire, an altar, etc.

In describing the architectural significance of a cathedral, experts say they are "frequently the most imposing building, and one of the most ancient buildings in its town. The great size and splendour of the cathedral may be out of all proportion to the town itself. The money and talents expended on the building are seen as honouring God, and may also demonstrate both the devotion and the status of the patrons."

Hard to escape the parallels.

But as any devotee will tell you, the church might be beautiful on the outside but it's what's inside that's beautified.

In the case of last night's show, the temple out on the desert town's edge was impressive but it was what was going on inside that counted.

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